When I was a kid growing up in Indiana there was a summer where it seemed like every day spawned a tornado. In the afternoon the sky would grow overcast and then turn a light shade of green. It got so that it was expected, just another part of life. When the sirens called I’d jump in the bathtub and my mom would pull the mattress off my bed and place it over us. Then we waited for whatever was coming to pass.
Looking back now, that was a strange time. I remember three separate occasions where I stood on our front porch and watched a funnel cloud forming. Another time, a tornado ripped through a nearby field. It came directly at our house, then lifted into the sky and hung over our roof. We stood in the yard together and looked into the eye of it. The next day my grandma, steeped in all manner of superstitions, took me into her backyard and taught me how spot a dangerous storm.
She told me the air smelled busy.
That the clouds moved in opposite directions.
That you could will your body into a barometer.
That you could feel the pressure coming if you really paid attention.
If Indiana has a wild climate, and it most assuredly does, then the weather here in Georgia is positively tame by comparison. I moved here this summer, deep in the swell of August, and learned that I could set my watch by the afternoon rains. Around two o’clock, after a muggy day, clouds would roll in and it would rain like hell for nearly thirty minutes. After that, it cleared away as if nothing had ever happened.
Winter is similarly predictable. Some days it’s overcast and some days it’s nothing but blue skies, but the temperature sits consistently at seventy degrees. It’s the oddest thing I’ve ever encountered, climate-wise. I’ll look at the calendar and see that we’re nearing the middle of December, but outside it feels more like September. I’ll see Christmas decorations on neighboring houses and feel lost. In winter evenings I’m able to sit on my porch and read and write and I can’t shake the feeling that everything is wrong.
When I call home I hear about how it’s already snowed, how Muncie, Indiana, had some ice the night before. In Georgia we’re forty degrees this side of freezing. I hear what my family and friends are saying and I understand their words, but already the concept is so foreign I can’t exactly hold onto it.
This is the topic I usually discuss with my mom over the phone. She’ll tell me how cold it gets at night and how she’s put the plastic up on the back porch so the cats who sleep there won’t freeze. I tell her it was seventy-five, eighty, eighty-three degrees, and that if I could get away I’d make for the beach. We both laugh because I think that’s what we’re expected to do, and then she tells me that, with time, I’ll get used to it. And in a way I guess that’s true. When I was shivering in a bathtub and hoping the Wrath of God wouldn’t befall my home, I got used to it in a hurry. But still, the stark contrast in our weather only exacerbates the distance between us. With every disparate forecast I’m only reminded further that I am Here and she is There.
Once a storm passed and I was let out of the bathtub, I’d hurry into the living room and turn on the TV. The local news always had special coverage of bad weather that made the whole ordeal feel important and dangerous. Down at the corner of the screen would be a map that showed just how bad things were and onscreen there’d be graphics of the storm and its path. The weatherman would give his take, warn some towns to take cover and give others the all clear, and then the channel would go back to its regularly scheduled program.
But one time our town wasn’t as lucky. The funnel touched down and reduced a good number of buildings and barns to ruin. We drove around, my mom and I did, to see the damage. Everywhere you looked people were standing in their yards, speechless and dumbfounded.
We got home and I ran in and turned the TV on. I wanted to see what the weatherman and the news had to say about the situation, but they’d already moved on. A baseball game was airing. It was a Los Angeles Dodgers’ game and the California sun was shining bright. The batter stood in the box and the pitcher was in his wind-up. The camera swooped into the stands and showed fathers and sons drinking beer and eating hot dogs. I couldn’t understand how somewhere out in the world people were still smiling and enjoying themselves while down the road neighbors were surveying the destruction of their lives.
Not too long ago, I finished teaching one of my three classes at Georgia Southern. It was warm—a high of eighty-four—and the combined weight of the end of the semester and the humidity made life seem slow and torturous. I broke a sweat as I walked out to my car and slung my satchel into the backseat. Before I started the engine I looked at my phone and saw that my stepfather had called, something which only happens in emergencies.
My mother, 700 miles away, forty-five degrees removed, was in the hospital. She was fighting a nasty case of bronchitis, a real problem considering she’d just been diagnosed with COPD. The doctors said hospitalization was a precaution, that she would recover, but when I talked to her she cried all the same. I could tell that my mother, the one who placed me in that bathtub so many years before, was as scared as she’d ever been.
When I got off the phone I drove back to my house, where it was still eighty, where I could still sit on the porch as if it were early fall. I sat out there for a long time and tried to get my head about me. My neighbors were outside, washing their cars, mowing their grass, children playing in their yards while they grilled on their decks. I sat there and concentrated on the sky and the air like my grandma had taught me. The sky was stagnant, a blanket slate color. There was no movement and a complete absence of pressure. But I couldn’t deny that something was forming. I couldn’t say there wasn’t something coming my way.
A born and bred Hoosier, Jared Yates Sexton played Transformers and basketball in Linton, Indiana. In the spring of 2012 he accepted an offer to join the creative writing faculty at Georgia Southern University, and in December of that same year, Atticus Books released his first collection of stories, An End to All Things.